Council delays forming Hilo business group

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald People walk past a mural on Keawe Street in Hilo on Wednesday.

A proposed Business Improvement District for Hilo was kicked down the road Wednesday after the Hawaii County Council voted to postpone the matter until March.

The improvement district is a long-discussed proposal that would allow businesses in downtown Hilo to finance infrastructure and other upgrades within the district’s boundaries. Originally presented as a bill by then-Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, it was postponed for years to allow additional discussion until it was resurrected at a November council meeting.


As presented at that meeting, Bill 230 proposes a $91,500 first-year budget for the BID, which would largely encompass the area between Ponahawai Street, Wailuku Drive, Kapiolani Street and the Hilo Bayfront, as well as some other sections along Kilauea Avenue.

On Wednesday, the first meeting of the new council following the November elections, council members discussed a proposed amendment to the bill that would, among other things, significantly increase the district’s budget to $367,000 for the first year.

The vast majority of that budget would be for “safety and cleaning ambassadors,” which would account for $264,000 in the first year.

The amended bill suggests that those ambassadors would be uniformed “Clean Sweep Crews” who would simultaneously act as security for the district, clean and maintain the publicly owned areas of the district, provide assistance and information for people in the district, and serve as “ambassadors of aloha.”

Other expenses for the first-year budget would include $30,000 for homeless outreach and $50,000 for professional services management.

The funds would be provided mostly through assessments on BID member properties. Parcels of land within the main portion of the BID would be assessed at a rate of $1.50 for every $1,000 of net taxable value each tax year.

Former County Managing Director Roy Takemoto, who was instrumental in formulating the BID proposal in 2020, told the council Wednesday that the $1.50 per $1,000 rate is similar to that levied in the Kailua Village BID, which formed in 2007. In that district, member businesses pay $1.75 per every $1,000 of net taxable value — a business with a net taxable value of $2.3 million would pay a little over $4,000.

The previous version of the bill would apply a blanket $500 assessment for every parcel within the district.

While members of the council seemed supportive of the proposal, some members of the public were not.

Resident Cory Harden submitted testimony expressing concerns that the establishment of the district would push homeless people out of downtown Hilo without any support.

“(The bill) has the potential to bring many positive changes — but also to make life harder for homeless people,” Harden said. “I was appalled to see that one testifier (at a prior meeting) even proposed making some areas of downtown semi-private so that homeless people could be removed.”

Harden added that the “Clean Sweep Crews” provision in the bill could lead to the harassment of homeless people.

Harden and several other testifiers suggested that the bill include a requirement that the BID make an annual donation to a nonprofit that serves homeless people in the BID. Harden suggested a $1,800 annual donation, which was about 2% of the BID’s initial budget, although a proportional donation for the amended budget would be about $7,340.

Additionally, Harden urged that the bill prohibit using BID funds to remove homeless people who are not breaking any laws, or to install “hostile architecture” such as spikes on surfaces or too-small benches to discourage sleeping.

Other testifiers echoed Harden’s suggestions.

“Please consider the consequences to the homeless if Bill 230 is passed as written,” wrote resident Sylvia Dolena. I agree with the intention of Bill 230 and would like to see that it is clear that it should not be used to sweep homeless people under the rug or to harass them. I know that is not the intent and still, in hiring vendors or county crews, it could happen as it already has happened in many areas on this island.”

Takemoto suggested Wednesday that the BID could hire homeless people to themselves be members of the “Clean Sweep Crews,” but did not elaborate further.

Council members voted to amend the bill to include the larger budget, but they also voted to postpone a vote on the bill itself until a March meeting, in order to give members more time to review it and propose further amendments.

Email Michael Brestovansky at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email